Tag Archives: personal finance

My love/hate relationship with my mortgage

My love hate relationship with my mortgage

I’ve always felt … oddly grateful toward my mortgage.

I feel much better about making mortgage payments every two weeks than I ever did about paying rent. My mortgage is a means to an end:  better health, quality of lifestability (and peace of mind). And one day it will be gone, gone, GONE.

But it does weigh on me sometimes.

I recently got my 6-monthly mortgage statement.  Since buying my house in March I’ve paid off $6574 of principal. Sweet! But nearly half of that was extra repayments, which I made straight to principal. Eeesh.

Much as I want to throw everything at it, though, there are other things I want to do in life. Like modernise my 1960s kitchen, for starters, and invest regularly (outside of KiwiSaver, that is).

I’ve always been terrible with balance, and balancing my mortgage against other financial priorities is probably going to be an ongoing struggle.

Homeowners, how do you feel about your mortgage?

How homeownership saves me money

The surprising ways home ownership saves me money

Over the past decade I’ve wasted thousands of dollars renting (not even counting rent payments – those would be in the tens of thousands and at least I got shelter in exchange for those).

There are costs that come with home ownership – some unavoidable, some totally up to you – but those are covered extensively elsewhere on the internet and I’m not getting into those today.

No, what I’m talking about are the surprising ways home ownership has saved me money here and there.


A poorly insulated house is less efficient to heat. We’ve lived in iceboxes half the size of this house that cost the same in power bills as this one. And in the case where we’ve lived with flatmates, well, other people often don’t care about saving power the way you do.

Related: I’m probably saving a small fortune on tissues. I no longer have a constantly blocked or runny nose – it’s the exception rather than the norm now.  Rental standards in NZ are pathetic (and here’s even more skin-crawling stuff).

Now don’t get me wrong. This is still an older house and we’ll need to add more insulation to the roof, which will be in the realm of $1500-2000 if we DIY and more if we get in the pros to install it. On the very coldest nights this winter the roof has gotten down to single digit temperatures overnight, with the rest of the house plunging to low double digits, which isn’t ideal. But it’s noticeably drier and warmer than the many rentals I’ve endured.

I’m sure winters are getting colder (either that or I just feel it more with age) and T agrees. We experienced some record low temperatures this year and last, so I don’t think it’s entirely my imagination.


My content insurance dropped to a third of its former cost once I became a homeowner. I’m deadly serious. Car insurance also decreased by a tiny bit. Just another way renters get ripped off.

Going out

Home is a haven now. Not a cramped, damp place to escape. Not a place with flatmates who grate on your nerves. I love my house so much, warts and all. I’ve always been a homebody and at last, after so many years, I have somewhere I can honestly nest and settle in for real. I feel an unbridled sense of joy and serenity every time I  step out onto my  sunny deck or sit down in my dining nook.

As you can probably guess, I have had zero regrets about buying a house. Home ownership has been everything I dreamed of and more.


PSA: Check your credit!

Credit check
Credit check
It’s that time again: time to check up on my credit report!

As a commenter wisely pointed out, my recent drama with collections (over $50, of all things) means I should definitely check and make sure that it has been fully withdrawn and isn’t on my credit record. If it is, I’m seriously going to go ballistic.

If you’re not sure how to check your credit report in NZ, here’s how. There are 3 reporting agencies. Below are the current links to request your free credit record:

You can do it all online – just enter your details and request a copy to be emailed or posted to you. They ask for your name/s, address history, and employment info. You will need the details of your ID (eg driver’s licence info) and may need to upload a scanned copy as well.

NZ credit reports include your personal details, a list of credit enquiries, any default, judgement or insolvency details, and repayment history. The repayment history isn’t exhaustive – not all credit is reported. For example, my 2015 report included my credit card history but did not include my car loan history at all.

Although I was able to obtain my credit score for free back in 2010 when they were first introduced, it seems you can no longer see your credit score unless you pay for it. Not like in the US – where you can easily get your free credit scores in a jiffy.  I have no idea what mine is now!

When sanity > principles

Money or sanity?

I have a strong sense of fairness and justice (which sometimes makes it hard to exist in this world). But I’m also quite pragmatic and getting more ruthlessly so over time.

Which is why I’ve made the conscious choice to write off certain sums of money over the past few years. To move on and look forward. Let go of the expended stress and energy, and devote that time and headspace into productively making that money back even quicker. And of course, to not get into the same situation again.

Let it goooo

Heinous flatmate (approx $1000)

Blood from a stone. He was a terrible person to live with and is terrible with money/being employed/adulting in general. I’ve written off the money he owes for bills and damage and moved on.

Tax refund

Can’t really remember the amount – maybe $500? Anyway, T was due a tax refund a few years back that went into limbo somewhere between the IRD and his bank account. Endless back and forth never resolved it and we’ve moved on. (Subsequent refunds have made it through fine.)

Work expenses

Again, the exact amount has faded from memory and I’m certainly not going to check and dredge it up, but a couple hundy? Suffice to say toxic boss #2 in this post was a nightmare from start to finish. T chatted to someone from the labour department but ultimately, not enough proof of the context and it being a work expense. Live and learn.

Unpaid freelance invoices (approx $1000)

Loved the work. Hated the chasing of payment. I did a series of features and was paid for about half. Struggling magazine, new editors, tardy accounts … just one big clusterfuck.

Unrefunded bond (approx $700)

Our last tenancy was a nightmare. Anything to put that memory behind me.

I know lots of you mentioned in the comments on this post that you’d written off small amounts in the past – what about bigger ones?

Disease Called Debt

CYA: Revisiting my insurance coverage

Although insurance isn’t a huge line in my budget, the peace of mind it provides is invaluable. While my car insurance is pretty sussed and doesn’t require much thought, a couple things have got me rethinking some of my other insurance cover.

Contents insurance

I stumbled across a TradeMe thread the other week in which people were discussing how much contents insurance they had. $100k for a three bedroom house seemed to be the consensus. This was my reaction:

WTF?And then I followed one of the links through to a contents insurance calculator and whizzed through quickly. By our standards, their allowances were a teeny bit insane. $7k for two laptops? A $1500 dryer? $4000 of shoes per person? An expensive china cabinet full of antiques? Nuh uh.

I’m not sure we count as minimalist, but we don’t have a ton of stuff realistically and most of it isn’t worth very much.

To be fair, we probably are a little underinsured (I can’t even remember exactly how much cover we currently have) but hopefully come next renewal, we’ll also have redone the kitchen and may as well roll all those changes up at once. Very little we own was obtained new, but I am definitely aware that should we need to replace it all at once it would be expensive. That said, should we lose everything in one fell swoop, we would still replace things gradually in order to get more for the money. It took about 3 months for us to buy a bedroom set after moving in here (dresser and bedside tables).

A kitchen with a dishwasher, a decent fridge, a gas stove and cabinets not from the 1960s will probably add a significant number to the amount we want to be insured for. Still, the annual premium dropped to around $400 when I became a homeowner, so hopefully it will still be pretty affordable even after increasing the coverage and updating the policy accordingly.

Health insurance

Previously I’ve had a bit of a look into private health insurance – where previous employers offered discounts through Southern Cross (my current one does not) and when I needed my wisdom teeth out. And maybe now once again, since a friend is undergoing expensive dental work after an accident which is only partly covered by ACC.

Every time I’ve reached the conclusion that for me it’s a waste of money, my needs are around optical and dental and the cost of policies just don’t stack up against what I would get back. T might benefit from policies that cover physiotherapy, being both accident and injury prone.

What I would give for a comprehensive health insurance comparison site! Maybe this is an instance where an adviser would actually be worth it.

But I suspect this is something I’m going to put aside yet again. Maybe when kids come into the picture (my two bosses who have kids reckon they’ve got their money’s worth and more from health insurance).

When did you last reconsider your insurance coverage?

What to do if you have champagne taste on a beer budget

What to do if you have champagne taste on a beer budget

No judgement if your tastes skew a little more extravagant than your budget indicates. I think most of us know what it’s like to not have everything we want.

It’s an eternal struggle. Our money is limited but the list of things we can potentially do with it is not.

Spend less

The quickest win is to cut expenses where possible. A dollar saved is a dollar earned (and won’t be taxed!). Trimming the budget = instant savings.

For most of us the three biggest expenses are housing, food, and transport. If you can cut down on any (or all!) of these big ticket costs you’ll be saving money every week/fortnight/month on these regular expenses.

While renting I always endeavoured to keep rent as low as possible, but now that I own I’m making extra principal payments with the aim of eliminating the mortgage outright earlier than scheduled. We’re a one-car household, which saves an untold amount of money, and while we could easily spend much more on groceries and eating out (and would love to) we keep it in check as much as possible.

Other recurring categories to look at are all your utilities and subscriptions – internet, phone, power, water, TV, gym, etc. I have a fear of commitment when it comes to these things and have no contracts for any utilities. That said, I do have a Spotify subscription, mainly for music on my commute!

Earn more

Sometimes there’s no way around it – you just need to bring in more money.

The most basic existence in today’s world costs money, and the kind of life you want almost certainly costs more than that.

If you can’t achieve what you want on your income, or at least make progress towards it – even after cutting back and ruthlessly prioritising – you may need to grow your income.

Whether that’s by diversifying your income and making money on the side, learning to negotiate or change jobs to make more, or even retrain and upskill in order to increase your earning potential, there are options.

In my experience this has made the biggest difference. Even when I was first starting out I was constantly side hustling to earn more money to squirrel away for my goals.

Making more has seriously supercharged my ability to get ahead. With that extra money I’ve been able to save and invest, buy a house, stop buying clunker cars. Quite simply, I could not have gotten this while making $40k, because there’s only so far you can trim expenses. I increased my income $15k overnight, and almost $30k in under 2 years – no amount of frugality could have achieved that same impact.

If you want to get right back to basics, the key thing is to spend less than you earn. And thus there are only two ways to improve your financial standing are: spend less and/or earn more.

Disease Called Debt

I used to be afraid of debt. Now I understand how to use it to my advantage


I was super lucky to sidestep the burden of student loans. Thank you, scholarship! I’m getting to the age where a few people are starting to clear their student debt, but I’d say the majority are still paying theirs back.

I’ve always been debt averse. I’ve never really bought anything I couldn’t afford, and have avoided going into consumer debt.

(Granted, I have carried a balance on my credit card during some of the super fun times of unemployment and being down to one income. Paying that interest sucked – they were small balances of a couple grand but still. That shit stressed me out.)

Using debt to get ahead

We paid for all our cars in cash. But unfortunately that never turned out too well for us, because we couldn’t afford very good vehicles.

For this car I took out a loan and paid it down aggressively, eventually pulling from savings to pay it off  in full 9 months in. This saved so much stress and at the end of it we have a reliable paid off car that should have years left in it (touch wood).

And after years of enduring substandard NZ rentals, I have bought a house of my own and am already enjoying the benefits. The peace of mind that comes with the stability of owning is priceless; I am finally able to own a dog; and I’ve noticed my health is better now I have a warmer, drier home environment. This means I can be more productive – not to mention be taken more seriously as a professional when I don’t have a constantly literally dripping nose through winter and sniffles year round.

I don’t expect interest rates to stay this low so I’m directing extra money to the mortgage where I can – early repayments at this stage have a massive impact on the long term total cost.  Reaching retirement with a paid-off home will be a big win.

Going into debt as a calculated move has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’d probably be better off had I done so sooner.

Debt is debt and I still hate it – but money is a tool and debt can be too, done right.

In an ideal world nobody would ever need to borrow money (and we’d have 0% unemployment, poverty, homelessness etc…).

Sadly, that’s not the world we live in – and if we do need to borrow money then the key is to do it wisely.

Share the Wealth Sunday

How I doubled my pay and halved my stress

How I doubled my pay and halved my stress

Since graduating with my degree, I’ve managed to double my pay. Most of that growth has happened in the past couple of years, thanks to two strategic job moves. Here’s the process I went through.

I realised it was time for a change

It’s a long running truism that you don’t go into journalism for the pay. Young, energetic and idealistic, we rushed into the trenches with shining eyes and grand notions.

It’s thankless in those trenches. The work never ends. You’re constantly being forced to do more with less. Media organisations keep cutting back; the whole industry is struggling to find a sustainable model.

I loved my job, but it was tough. When I took a six-month sabbatical, the person covering for me quit after just a few weeks. For what it’s worth, I’d always worked at that pace and this was a bit of an awakening. It really did get me wondering what a normal workload outside of publishing might feel like.

When I started thinking about my next move, I looked around and saw no opportunities in journalism that excited me. Forget advertised positions; even just considering what roles existed and were currently filled, there was nothing that spiked my interest. Nothing I wanted to aspire towards.

And just as importantly, I saw little opportunity to increase my income. I was getting by fine, but in order to get ahead, or to afford a family or a halfway decent place to call home, I had to make a change.

I assessed my transferable skills

I took the skills I had and started applying to jobs outside of publishing. The decline of journalism has led to lots of new opportunities in all kinds of companies – as content marketing grows, editorial talent is in demand on the brand side. (The typical trajectory for ex-journalists is to head into PR or communications, but you could not pay me enough to do media relations.) They need people who can write, understand their audience, and manage digital channels.

How to get a job you love

I researched salaries as best as I could

I talked to people. I looked at salary surveys. I spent time on TradeMe and Seek just playing around with the filters and seeing how the results changed when I altered the salary band in my search parameters. (This works for real estate listings, too. In both cases you typically won’t see a number listed outright but you can use the filters to see when listings disappear from the results and make an assumption about the range based on that.)

I sucked it up and negotiated

Full disclosure: it took me until my fourth job to actually negotiate for the first time.

In Job 1 I was on union pay rates. My hourly rate wasn’t very high. But a few months into the job I accepted a change in duties that had me working weekend shifts. As a result, I actually took home something like 40% more than that every pay day unless I had a weekend off.

In Job 2 I was willing to effectively take a small pay cut for better hours, (though technically my actual base rate was higher).

In Job 3 – my first outside of journalism – I had every intention of negotiating. But the application form asked for a salary range and I was afraid to leave it blank. They offered me more than the figure I wrote down, and more than I would have even dared to expect, to the tune of a 25% effective increase. And so, I didn’t negotiate further. But this was a real eye opener. There was money to be made! My skills were valuable in the marketing world!

In Job 4 I negotiated and received the exact salary I wanted – a 25% increase again. Boom.

In hindsight

Life after journalism is sweet. I’ve been picky about the organisations I apply to and the kind of work I want to do – and as as a result I find even more meaning in my job now. Plus I’m better resourced to do it (though of course, as is the way, there’s usually still too many ideas and too much to do compared to actual capacity). I’ve been able to save more and start to build wealth. And that is incredibly important to me.

Disease Called Debt

Does your budget reflect what you value?

Does your budget reflect your values?

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Everybody does money differently – we all have our own way of approaching things. But ultimately the key to happiness is spending in line with our values.

There are infinite things I could spend money on. Being mindful about my money and where it goes – specifically, spending it on things that enrich my life – gives me immense satisfaction.

I don’t really drink; I don’t have a clothing budget. Here’s where the bulk of my budget goes.

A home environment I love

For me, that’s an Auckland-sized mortgage in order to live in the city I love and grew up in. To have a dog I love. To live in a home free of mould and mushrooms, where I can literally breathe easier. Surprise: warm dry air is a lot better for you than cold wet air. (Sure, theoretically it’s possible to achieve the latter while renting, but quality rentals are rare and expensive and the market is competitive. At that kind of price to me it made more sense to buy – even in a less central location – and pay the premium of rates and maintenance in exchange for long term security and quality.)

Food­­ that makes my tastebuds tingle

Eating out is our main form of entertainment, but we don’t do that very often either. Quality not quantity (although we do tend to do at least one weekend bakery breakfast run). I buy cheese and dips and olive oil with minimal guilt and don’t fret too much at the supermarket checkout till.

Travel and getting away

At this point in time I’m not specifically saving for travel. I’m more than happy just to burrow in at home since buying a place. But at some point a holiday will definitely be in order – I’m just not sure where in the pecking order it will fall as a financial priority just yet. I’d like to do another South Island road trip; visit Melbourne and the Gold Coast; and head back to the US to places both new and old.

How does your budget stack up against your values?

Disease Called Debt

What to think about when buying appliances

Dream kitchen
I wish…! By: WalkingGeek

Recently I attended a focus group where we got to talk about shopping. Specifically, shopping for whiteware. Although my experience with buying appliances has been pretty dang limited to date, I anticipate buying a crapload of them in the next 1-2 years as a freshly minted homeowner.

The only new appliance I’ve ever purchased was our Samsung washing machine in early 2015. Aside from that, I’ve only ever bought cheap secondhand washing machines and fridges at a pinch, when our old one died or a house move forced a change of some sort.

In that session, we discussed things like brands, reliability, efficiency, design, functionality, upfront cost and running costs. In particular, when it makes sense to go for the option with a better energy rating, whether it’s worth calculating annual running costs, calculating the break even, etc.

Being a broke student and then a broke journalist for most of my adult life, upfront cost was always paramount. Not only did I have a limited budget, I never knew what the future held or how long I would need that appliance for. Efficiency and the longer term view just didn’t play into it then. The ability to be pound wise rather than just penny wise assumes a certain level of privilege.

A new kitchen is in my future at some point – a fridge, rangehood, stove/oven and definitely a dishwasher. I want a gas stove for sure, but efficiency will be a consideration for the fridge and dishwasher.

Have you renovated a kitchen? What do you take into account when buying appliances?